Snow covers the park. Clouds cover the sky. One hides green; the other blue. You understand the snow and the clouds have been working together for a long time but still—you marvel at how effortlessly their middle points blend ahead; how close their choice of whites resemble one another. This illusion makes the world feel like a tiny place. You feel like the world has shrunk down or altered itself exclusively for you today. Instead of a park you’re on an empty sheet of music paper. Instead of being tiny it’s infinite. And indeed the day is fresh; your life soon to be new again. The notes—flat or sharp—depend on her. You put your hand in your coat pocket and reach for the ring. You hope she will say yes. Even a convincing maybe! will be good enough.
You stop in front of a bench sat on by a boulder of snow and she—a woman named Cider—looks over at you. Her red hair reaches out from underneath her hat. You’re looking back at her too. You’ve always loved that face. Snowflakes land on your head. Wind blows your scarf west. You wonder if someone might want to even marry you. Whether they’ll find you good enough or decent enough or smart enough. You don’t feel like you stack up.
Up ahead her kids run around. You’re the only four in the park. Nobody else in the city has thought to take a walk amidst the blizzard—it doesn’t make any sense. But to you four it does. The snow reaches above the girl’s knees and past the little boy’s waist as he digs around for the football he’s lost. With your hand reaching into your coat’s inside pocket like this you think it looks like you’re reaching for a gun rather than a ring.
“Mom,” the boy calls out. “Look at this.” He trudges through the snow smiling and holding a child’s tooth.
“Throw that down,” she says. “Why would you think to pick that up?”
The boy shrugs. He chucks the tooth over in the vicinity of his sister who doesn’t notice. The small tooth hits the snow and leaves behind a dime width slit as it punctures through.
“How do you think a tooth like that makes it to the park?” Cider says to you.
You shake your head. “Maybe the boy or girl it belonged to thought to plant it,“ you say, “so come Spring, they’ll have a baby tooth plant.”
She laughs and walks forward.
“Wait,” you say. You take the ring in your hand and close it in your palm. “I need to ask you something.”
With the ring hidden inside your palm you put your arms over her shoulders. You say, “I’ve wanted this for awhile. I only hope you do too. I know I’m not the best but maybe I’ll be better one day. I’ve got the pieces. Maybe I’m like these snowflakes. Inconsequential on their own but somehow they platoon together to create something that never seems possible. Maybe I can be like that for you and the kids.” You stutter when you say inconsequential and have two blushing cheeks the entirety of your proposal. You hope the cold hides this secret. It does. You begin to open up your hand.
She laughs. You close your hand back up; you never expected this.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’ve never heard you say anything like that before. It was sweet. Did you think of all that just now?”
You smile. “Just a little while ago.”
“Well, it’s adorable for you to—”
“Mom!” the girl calls out. “Can I keep this?” The girl runs over, holding in her hand a tattered paperback. You recognize the book. It was your favorite novel a long time ago. Your brother had a copy on his bookshelf when you were younger. You take the book from her and wipe the snow off it with your jacket. You open to the first page. The words are exactly as you once read them.
“Sure,” Cider says to her. “Maybe I’ll read it too. Tell me how it is after you’re done.”
You give the book back to the girl and when she takes it, runs off.
“I’ve read that book once,” you say to Cider.
“I didn’t know you—”she trips and falls into the snow.
As she’s falling you hear the boy calling out, wagging his arms in the air. You can barely see him through all the snowfall.
“Hold on,” Cider calls back to her son. She’s laughing and looking up at you. Her arms are folded in frustration.
You ask if she’s alright and give her your hand. She takes your help and you wipe the snow off her jacket like you had just done to the paperback.
“I’m fine,” she says. “What’s that?” She points to what’s made her fall over.
You look. There’s this wooden triangle sticking out from the snow. You think maybe it’s the corner of an old trunk. You give it a kick.
The boy shouts again. His voice is unclear.
“Wait a second,” Cider yells.
The boy shouts some more.
Cider moves some of the snow away from around the object.
You say, “Let me go see what he wants. I’ll be right back.” You run through the snow to the boy. As you run you look around for the girl. You see her off on her own, trailing near the frozen lake. You make sure she’s not walking on the frozen lake. She isn’t. She’s spinning in circles and holding her new book above her head on the path in front of the lake.
When you get to the boy you see his face has gone reserved. This is unlike the boy.
You say, “What is it?”
“This is sad,” he says. He points to the head of a dog, the rest of its body is covered by snow. He looks like he’s just asleep under a blanket.
You look at the dog and at its closed eyes and its short brown fur and its muzzle that’s gone gray. “Get away,” you tell the boy. You push him back, harder than you mean to and he falls down.
“Why is that dog here?” the boy asks you.
You cover the dog’s face with snow and shake your head.
“He’s not alright is he?”
“No. But maybe come Spring he’ll get thawed out and be like new again.”
“Don’t cover him up too much then,” he says. “Or no one will find him and help thaw him out.”
The boy crawls over and takes the snow away from the dog’s face. He tries to free its neck from the snow. He tries to loosen the snow around its paws. You both stare at the dog. The falling snow has already started covering its old face with a white beard. To the boy it’s only some dog. To you, he looks just like the dog who belonged to your first girlfriend. His name was Foster. You imagine saying . . . Foster . . . Foster . . . to wake him up. You think that this might work. But you don’t try. You take a step back and look at him again. You get more than that bit of déjà vu people get when they see someone else on the street walking a replica of a dog they once loved; you are almost certain it actually is Foster.
“Let’s get back over to your mother,” you finally say to the boy. He doesn’t say anything but gets up and follows you.
You walk over to Cider and put your arm around her waist. She has finally gotten the object from out of the snow. You were right, it is a trunk. When you see that this trunk has lilacs printed on to it and has two gold padlocks you already know what’s inside. When Cider unlatches the padlocks she will see some of your mother’s old paintings. There should be seven and a half inside. Cider opens the trunk and there are the canvases you and your father had stored away. Cider picks up a painting and runs her hand over the brushstrokes.
“These are so beautiful,” she says.
You nod and begin to feel faint. The last unfinished painting was going to be a birthday present for your father. You make yourself look away. Still over near the frozen lake is the girl.
“Would it be wrong if I took some of these?” Cider says. “I don’t think anyone wants them anymore.”
You shrug. You look to the sky and suddenly you realize you’re standing in the middle of a blizzard. It doesn’t make any sense.
Cider puts the painting back into the trunk. Then she looks at you for a moment. You wonder why she might be looking at you like this. She smiles and crouches down. She starts to feel under the snow. And then she’s pulling up all this old stuff. She finds a necklace of your grandmother’s. She finds an empty fish tank your sister had when you were children. She finds a gilded squirrel—your father’s favorite Christmas ornament.
You feel frozen. You make yourself move. You walk over to the lake slowly because you’re afraid you might accidentally walk into whatever else is hiding underneath the snow. You get to the girl and put your hand on top of her head.
The girl says, “I don’t know if I want this book, it looks really boring.”
“You sure? It’s good. I’ve read it before.”
“Yeah, but I have enough to read.”
She takes the book and throws it far onto the lake. You smile.
Cider and the boy walk over to the both of you. Cider’s smiling and says, “Would you believe all this stuff I found? I’m taking some of it home with me.”
You nod. She’s doesn’t know what she’s really taking; that these things first belonged to other people. To people you’ve loved and lost.
“Hey . . . go ahead and ask us what you wanted to ask me before! You never got the chance,” she says.
You had forgotten you were about to propose. You shake your head.
Cider frowns and kicks you in the shin.
“Do you really think you might want to marry me?” you say.
“Even if at the end, everything we were will just come down to us being nothing but two rings for somebody to go and sell?” You take the ring from out of your pocket and hold it out for her. You look at it like you aren’t sure what it is. Is it a ring? Is it a receipt of a life lived.
“I do.” She places all her newly acquired items on top of the snow. She puts the ring on, kisses you, then pushes you. As you fall backwards into the snow, you sit there and wonder why she might have done that. As she goes to pick up all these things she’s acquired, she says, “Maybe me and the kids should get back home before we get covered up by all this snow.”
You close your eyes. For a quick moment you wonder if maybe, come Spring, you’ll get thawed out and be like new again.
“And you too, obviously. Let’s go,” she says.
You look up at her. You have never felt less alone.
Christopher Cassavella is currently pursuing his B.A. in English at Brooklyn College. Some of his short stories have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Buffalo Almanack, Tincture Journal, and Front Porch Review. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Artwork: Caspar David Friedrich, Winter Landscape, 1811. Public domain.